Sophomores gather on retreat to discuss critical issues

Historically, student retention efforts have been centered around keeping freshmen at Tech after their first year. However, the greatest drop in retention rate actually occurs after the second year of a student’s matriculation at Tech. Sophomores form a crucial but often-overlooked segment of the Tech population, a fact that a group of students endeavor to change.

Last weekend, a group of second-years attended Sophomore Summit, an overnight retreat organized by sophomores, for sophomores. The purpose of the retreat was to inspire students who may be in the midst of the “sophomore slump,” as well as to draw attention to the myriad of issues that affect sophomore students.

“[Students got] a chance to know each other well, and really discuss the issues that go on during the sophomore year and ideas for solving them,” said Dr. Dana Hartley, the director of Undergraduate Studies and one of the advisors for the Sophomore Summit Steering Committee. Dr. Hartley deals with students on a regular basis in her position, where she advises students with prestigious awards, undergraduate research, pre-professional programs and more. Additionally, she is a facilitator for the GT Academic Advising Network. Over the past year, Dr. Hartley has been working with a task force to analyze the experience of sophomore students on campus.

“The purpose of Sophomore Summit was twofold: to promote networking as well as to improve the sophomore experience at Tech for future students…not only did students get a chance to meet and mingle, but they also came back with really great feedback Dr. Hartley and her Sophomore task force can work with,” said Alina Staskevicius, second year Industrial Engineering major and co-chair of the Sophomore Summit steering committee.

Sophomore year at Tech, like most of a student’s duration here, tends to be strenuous. Sophomores feel a different burden, though—they are very quickly burned out.

“The burnout comes because in a way, it doesn’t feel that new from freshman year,” Dr. Hartley said.

Sophomores are still in many of their core classes where interaction with the faculty is minimal. “You’re not yet integrated into your major…that sort of comes down to this motivational issue,” Dr. Hartley said. With faculty-student response, students tend to feel more downtrodden without the personal touch of a professor.

“When you come in as a freshman, you enter as a cohort. There is a big openness to meeting other people, whereas when you come in as a sophomore, a lot of groups have already been formed,” Dr. Hartley said. Dr. Hartley also commented that the same issues often affect transfer students in the process of adjusting to Tech.

Fortunately for these students, the Sophomore Summit exists to help them cope with the difficulties of the second year at Tech. This retreat sought to bring together students who are already involved at Tech and those who hope to become involved. The students who attended had many different perspectives, yet discovered that plenty of the other students were experiencing the same issues.

While most of the time, sophomores and transfers tend to feel as though there is less support, the Summit works towards averting those negative feelings for the individual students.

The Summit is led by a steering committee comprised entirely of sophomores. The Summit is traditionally initiated by the students and is not formally organized by Tech or the administration. Six sophomores formed this year’s steering committee: Mallory Necessary, Gopal Pappu, Marc Pare, Jonathan Saethang, Alina Staskevicius and Julia Zasyatkina. The steering committee was advised by Dr. Hartley and Sally Hammock from the Student Center Programs Council.

These students and their advisors planned extensively starting in the Fall. At Tech, getting the word out is very difficult as there are many awareness groups, notifications and general instances of advertisement. One simply has to walk down Skiles to be barraged with fliers from various groups, or check his of her e-mails to see the myriad of campus notifications.

“There [are] so many different programming things you can do, but in the end it’s the ones that really have an impact that matter,” Dr. Hartley said. A main goal of the Summit is to make an impact on campus to enable students to be as productive as possible without being miserable. Sophomores simply tend to feel this agony in many ways more than other students.

Dr. Hartley praised some of the on-campus initiatives, primarily the Living-Learning Communities (LLC) like the International House and the newly formed Honors Program.

“We realized that the living learning communities that are on campus have an impact that just blew my mind… It amazed me,” Dr. Hartley said. The implementation of the concept has received generally positive feedback in the past few years, as students build a closer community based on the commonalities in both the living and learning sectors.

Dr. Hartley eventually hopes to start a LLC for sophomores and transfers large enough to host a thousand students. Though she has great influence in advising the Sophomore Summit group, she is also deeply impressed with the progress the Summit has made in helping sophomores to stay at Tech and enjoy their education.

Dr. Hartley has been constantly looking for student feedback so that students feel more engaged with their education and more a part of the Tech community. “The idea is to make something that’s really big scale,” Dr. Hartley said.

For the steering committee members, they hope to see the tradition of Sophomore Summit continue to grow into an even bigger presence on campus.

“Because there is a real need for more sophomore initiatives and because Sophomore Summit was such a huge success this year, the current steering committee is working closely with administrators…to keep the tradition going strong every year and expanding in the future,” said Julia Zasyatkina, a second year Management major and member of the steering committee.

While the Summit has traditionally been student-initiated on a yearly basis, this year’s group plans to add continuity by selecting their successors.

“We will be looking to form next year’s Steering Committee soon so that it can begin planning for next year’s Summit…hopefully it will serve second-years even better than this year’s Summit did,” Staskevicius said.

To learn more about the Summit, you can go to http://cyberbuzz.gatech.edu/sophomore.